A Dog of Unusual Luck

amywink January 30th, 2010


This is a photo of my dog Tristan, about 15 or 16 years ago, when he was a young dog living in College Station, Texas— the third dog of my little pack of dachshunds that included his mother and his half brother. He’s the last remaining dog of the pack, now almost 17 years old, and he remains the luckiest of the bunch. He wasn’t originally intended to remain with me but when his mother, Maggie, fell ill with pemphigus vulgaris during her pregnancy, I planned to keep one of the puppies, a little female, in case Maggie didn’t make it. Unfortunately, the puppy I had planned to keep, Zoe, and the last puppy of the litter, a red dapple male, both came down with parvovirus.

Zoe didn’t make it, but the little male did, and I couldn’t let him go. After all the work my veterinarian (Dr. Van Stavern) did to save Maggie and the puppy, I named him Tristan, after Tristan Farnon from James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. While he was always a dog of nervous temperament and delicate digestion, he was also a most amusing animal, a “cartoon dog” as a friend called him. He loved to play, loved his obedience class buddy–a very large German Shepherd, Allie–and developed a deep attachment to all large dogs. He’s a sweet, funny dog, distinct from his half-brother (who was sweet but deeply serious, an “old man dog” even as a puppy, and a one person dog.

Since puppyhood, he hasn’t experienced a day of illness until the Pet Food poisoning in 2007. During March of that year, the month of his 14th birthday, he ate a can of Iams Chunks and Gravy and developed with acute kidney failure over the course of 3 days. It was just a couple of days after the recall of the food was announced. Though the vet explained the unlikely success of treatment, I couldn’t let him go and we spent 4 days in the hospital while he underwent fluid treatment. I went and sat with him every day while he struggled to survive. And he did survive, rebounding out of the kidney failure surprisingly well. I started him on a home cooked diet, because I found I could no longer feed him anything off the shelf. I administered fluids over other day and he thrived. Really thrived. Thrived so much his kidney values are normal, three years after his kidney failure.

This month, however, I thought I was going to lose him. On January 16th, he ate his dinner too fast and after an hour or so, suddenly swelled like a balloon with bloat. It was dire. I rushed him to the ER Vet and they, with the help of a stomach tube, released the air trapped in his stomach but he had to spend the night. I was able to pick him up the next day, but late that night, he swelled again and we rushed back. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad this time and we came home with medications and new instructions. He was fine for over a week, but then, on Tuesday the 26th, he started to swell again and I wondered if we’d be able to go on.

He spent the day at the regular vet’s and I received regular calls about his progress–by mid afternoon, the vet had released the gas and Tristan could come home. But she had felt a mass in his belly. A mass that might be cancer. So he would have an ultrasound on Wednesday to see what was there. All night I wondered if I should just let him go, even bother with the ultrasound. But I found I could make the decision and we went ahead with the ultrasound.

It wasn’t cancer. But it was a blockage. Perhaps something untoward he ate, a piece of cloth, a sock, or carpet. I was unprepared for that. And, no, he never ate anything of the sort. Never has. But the outcome of a blockage is grim and I almost let him go….except I couldn’t. I could feel the hard knot in his belly but I couldn’t. We came home with meds and I had a plan for saying goodbye if he deteriorated.

Except he didn’t. When we got into the car, I felt his belly again and the lump was smaller. When I got home, I could barely find it. I called the vet and let them know. In the morning, he passed the offending material. And bounced.

After a quiet day resting, he’s returned to better than normal– active, hungry, eager, almost trotting around–which is saying a lot for a 17 year old dog (119 in human years). I’m beginning to wonder if he has a portrait in some closet that takes all the health hits for him, a Portrait of Dorian Dog. He has aged, of course, but he’s still with me.

And I’m very glad neither one of us was ready to let go. I think I can see a smile on his face.


2 Responses to “A Dog of Unusual Luck”

  1. Stevenon 01 Feb 2010 at 10:21 am

    So happy to read this and to know that things turned out well. What a trooper!

  2. ellen fosteron 10 Feb 2010 at 2:32 pm

    What a wonderful boy!

    Take care…

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